Review: When I Get Little - Dog on Fleas


How to describe New York-based Dog On Fleas? Hmmmm... The band itself has used the phrase "Brigitte Bardot will serve you from John Cage's hat" to help describe the Dog on Fleas "recipe." It's a not inaccurate description of the band's attitude, but doesn't really give you any indication of what they sound like. So that's where I'll give it a shot.

On their 2006 release When I Get Little, their fourth album, Dog on Fleas play blues, country, jazz, folk, and zydeco -- among other styles -- with a loose feel reminiscent of Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Woody Guthrie. The five-member band are a talented group of musicians, but the resulting sound on the album is not overproduced, giving it room to breathe and sway. They come at songs from odd angles and most of those angles work. "Come On Down" has a loping New Orleans jazz feel and sounds very much like it could have been recorded strolling down a New Orleans street. "Green Grass of Summer" is a sweet retro-sounding folk-pop tune that would've sounded great on AM radio 35 years ago. (Heck, it would sound great on AM radio today.) And "Big Black Snake" is an instant folk classic that's remiscent of Woody Guthrie songs given a Billy Bragg/Wilco "Mermaid Avenue" treatment, except instead of Bragg's raggedy voice we get the clear voice of Debbie Lan.

Thirteen of the fifteen tracks on the 42-minute album are originals (most written by member Dean Jones) and none of them are traditional kids' songs. They're definitely in the traditional of family folk, and even songs about more kid-centric topics are given a twist -- the Cajun stylings and French lyrics for a song about French toast ("Mon Pain Perdu"), for example. The low-key feeling of peace and goodwill throughout the album is helped in no small part by the lyrical components on songs such as "Peace Will Come" and the ska-inflected "What's Behind the Wall." By no means are the messages of peace hammered home, but they're definitely there.

As with the best family folk albums, the music is appropriate for all ages, but kids ages 3 through 9 will probably appreciate it the most -- they'll be the ones most willing to dance along, too. Listen to samples here.

So how would I describe Dog on Fleas and When I Get Little? How about simply as "good and fun music for listeners of any age." Fans of Dan Zanes' music should especially check out this album, but unless you require your music pitch-corrected to within an inch of its life, you'll find it a vibrant and joyous experience. Highly recommended.